When Grady Behrens and his wife, Courtney, moved to their 532 Desplaines Ave. apartment two years ago, they could park overnight in the Howard Mohr Community Center lot from 8 p.m.-9 a.m. by purchasing a night permit from the village. They purchased the night permits, but late last year police cited them twice for leaving their cars there after 7 a.m., Grady said.
In late 2010, the village erected a sign on the Jackson Boulevard side of the community center that announced new night-parking hours (village officials and Karen Dylewski, community center director, have said the center needs earlier access to the lot). As a result of the sign, residents with night-parking permits had to start moving their cars from the lot at 7 a.m., rather than 9 a.m., lest they run the risk of being ticketed. The Behrens were cited twice for this offense, Grady Behrens said, but managed to successfully contest the tickets, possibly because police were enforcing a law that, up until Aug. 8, did not exist.
“We would receive citations … and [police] would reference an ordinance that did not relate” to any village code, Behrens said.
According to village code, the night hours for Lot 7, the Howard Mohr Community Center parking lot, at 7640 Jackson Blvd., are now 8 p.m.-7a.m., thanks to an ordinance the village passed at its Aug. 8 meeting that changed those hours from 8 p.m.-9 a.m. For months, however, the sign advised night-permit holders to adhere to hours that did not match the village code. The Aug. 8 ordinance, in essence, legitimized parking hours that Behrens said police were already enforcing.
“You should have those things in the law,” he said, recalling what he told a high-ranking police officer in July. A few weeks later, the village board passed the ordinance, amending Lot 7’s night-parking hours.
The police department did not return a call for comment.
“It was probably an oversight,” Commissioner Rory Hoskins said. “Every now and then, we, the council, and staff, make a mistake. Grady had a good point.”
Both the Mayor’s Press Office and Village Administrator Tim Gillian failed to return multiple phone calls seeking an explanation.
Grady and Courtney Behrens have two cars, and together they spend about $560 annually on two night permits, Grady said. The couple has been ticketed twice for being in the lot, but both tickets were successfully contested. Had they not, they would have been responsible for between $60 and $100 in parking fines, depending on when the citations were paid, Behrens said, noting in an email, that the tickets were “$30 before due date [and] $50 afterward.”
“You cannot enforce the law just because it is on a sign if there is no attached ordinance to support it. Mr. Behrens found this out ‘the hard way’ … when he received a ticket we had no right issuing,” Commissioner Chris Harris wrote in an email.
Behrens went to the trouble of looking into the village’s parking codes, something others may not have done.
“If somebody just moved here in the past nine months, they would just assume that was the law,” and pay the fine, he said.
“If you were issued a ticket before Aug. 8, you had every right to contest that ticket and you should have won,” said Harris in the email. Residents who were fined and paid the tickets should contact him at village hall, he added.
“I will do what I can to rectify the situation,” Harris said.
It is not clear how actively police were enforcing the 9 p.m.-7 a.m. hours posted on the sign before the Aug. 8 ordinance, and how much the village received in revenue from tickets that were issued to cars parked there after 7 a.m. Last week, the Forest Park Review filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the village seeking that information, but did not receive it by press time.
Mayor Anthony Calderone has said, in the past that the police department has been lax in enforcing parking codes throughout town.
“There is an obvious confusion that the sign presented,” so it is not the fault of the officer who issued the tickets, Harris wrote in the email.
Even though the recent ordinance now legitimizes the enforcement of the hours posted on the community center’s sign, Behrens considers the parking situation at the community center “annoying” and unfair.
“Every other lot [with night parking] has the hours listed as 8 p.m.-9 a.m. This ordinance only changes one law and that’s Lot 7. If we’re all paying the same for our permits, it seems somewhat [unfair],” he said.
There are 25 municipal lots in Forest Park, according to village code; 21 of them allow night-permit parking, and the hours, for all but the community center lot, are 8 p.m.-9 a.m.
Residents can purchase different types of parking permits at varying costs (nightly, daily passes and 24-hour passes, at monthly or quarterly rates, as an example), and permit holders can park in various municipal lots.
But the Behrenses live closest to the community center and the Forest Park Public Library municipal lots, and the former has more spaces than the latter.
“Getting a spot in the library lot is like playing dice,” said Behrens, in an email. “The lot is typically full all the time. The lot doesn’t close until 9 p.m., and night permits start at 8 p.m., and meters end at [6 p.m.]. If you play it right, you may be able to get a spot if you pull in and wait sometime between 7-9 p.m.”
They can leave their cars in any of the municipal lots – some of which are 10- to 15-minute walks from their apartment – but they have to move them early in the morning to residential streets for a few hours before heading to work. If they sleep in or they’re sick, the cars in the community center lot could be ticketed.
The commissioner who oversees public property questions whether the community center, in fact, needs the space earlier in the day.
At the Aug. 8 village board meeting, Harris said that “7 a.m. seems a little early,” and Grady Behrens also pointed out that he’s driven by the community center several times between 7 and 9 a.m., and seen a number of open parking spaces. (He, too, expressed his concerns during the public comment portion of last week’s village council meeting.)
Dylewski told the board and the audience at the Aug. 8 meeting that the space was necessary at that time for activities such as daycare. She did not return a call for comment.
“When I drop my kids off at the community center, … I pull up to the curb, put my hazards on,” instead of parking in the lot, Hoskins said.
“The [Aug. 8] ordinance was passed with my concerns being addressed by the mayor in the form of , ‘We will revisit it if there are issues with residents being inconvenienced.’ He called that a reasonable remedy,” said Harris, in the email.
The issue will likely be of no concern to the Behrenses in the near future, though, as they plan to leave Forest Park.
Parking is not the sole reason behind the planned move, Grady Behrens said, but it’s “one of the issues.”